The recorded exercise in this study can prove useful in visualising the theoretical landscape across which researchers in the field of the Green Economy move. This article is meant as a moment of self-reflection on the meaning of research itself, and its role in contributing to deliver visions, strategies and instruments towards a more environmentally-committed, just and equitable society – for which the Green Economy appears to be only a partial solution.
[This post has been previously featured on the T20 blog http://blog.t20germany.org/2017/04/20/trump-climate-action-is-unstoppable/#more-1347]
Sander Chan & Wanja Amling
On Tuesday 28 March, President Trump unravelled his predecessor’s climate policy by signing an executive order that, amongst other things, undoes restrictions on emissions by coal-fired power plants. Obama’s climate measures would have resulted in an estimated 26-28 percent reduction of US emissions by 2025. Many now ask about the global consequences of US withdrawal from climate protection; will this be the end of the world’s quest for a low-carbon and climate resilient future.
After more than 20 years of often fruitless negotiations, governments finally agreed to a new international climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. In the run-up to this new agreement, thousands of companies and investors committed to taking climate actions, and to investing billions into a cleaner economy. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the world demanding a climate-safe future. While the 45th President undeniably spells bad news for the US and for our Planet, we see important silver linings. First, climate Action is happening largely independently of national politics. Second, the multilateral climate process around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is not the only place to reaffirm low-carbon development. The G20 as a forum beyond the multilateral climate process may be well placed to encourage climate action, and reassure businesses and investors that the world remains determined to realize a low-carbon economy.
A cabinet of climate horrors
As the world finally seemed to break its addiction to fossil fuels, the oil and coal industry gained unprecedented power over the world’s largest economy. Trump appointed former Exxon executive Rex Tillerson as State Secretary, and climate deniers, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, respectively as Energy Secretary, and head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Observing this cabinet of climate horrors, nobody should be surprised at Trump’s executive order. With the stroke of a pen, Trump seeks to take down the centre piece of the Obama’s climate policy; the Clean Power Plan. Moreover, the order promises to open federal lands and waters for onshore and offshore leasing, allowing drilling and fracking in vulnerable ecosystems, and it releases government agencies from considering the social costs of carbon.
In contrast to what some have expected, the US is not (yet) withdrawing itself from the Paris Climate Agreement or the UNFCCC altogether. One could argue that a complete withdrawal would be better; now the rest of the world finds an unwilling and even obstructive US at the negotiation table. Moreover, as the US cuts its contributions to international climate finance and the UN, the international effects of Trump’s climate policy will extend far beyond negotiations. For instance, developing countries that are especially suffering from the impacts of already occurring climate change can no longer expect assistance and support from the US.
Climate action makes business sense
While international climate change cooperation undoubtedly suffers a heavy blow under Trump, some of important drivers of climate action remain. Renewable technologies have become strong competitors to older fossil fuel based technologies. The green economy is posting greater job growth than the fossil fuel based economy. A rapidly growing number of businesses, investors, cities and regions are stepping up efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and to adapt to climate change.
This surge in climate investments happens largely independently of politics. The private sector and local governments act less out of charitable intentions, or under popular or political pressure; rather, they realize that low-carbon and climate resilient solutions make business sense. Even the head of the largest private US coal company, Robert Murray, admitted that Trump cannot bring back lost jobs. The coal industry is declining, not because of regulations imposed, but because renewable energy and gas have become cheaper and more efficient. An executive order is not likely to withstand these new market forces.
Outside the direct control of Washington, more and more companies, investors, and cities are investing in the reduction of greenhouse gasses and adapting to climate change. The case for smart climate adaptation measures is particularly strong for cities. The city of Miami, for example, has invested more than one hundred million dollars in storm-water drainage. Measures to mitigate and to adapt to climate change are taking place all over the US, independently of federal policies, and not out of charitable intentions either.
Reaffirming a low-carbon economic future
It is difficult to remain optimistic amid the gloom. However, the US has previously shown considerable resilience against environmentally hostile administrations. For instance, robust participatory environmental arrangements in the 1980s mitigated some of the anti-environmental policies under President Reagan. More importantly, as a reaction to the Reagan administration, the environmental movement bloomed and consolidated into a force to reckon with. Ironically, Trump’s proneness to stoke civil and economic unrest may help the world to move away from the incrementalism that has thus far insufficiently triggered the more radical transitions needed to secure a climate safe future. Trump may have unwittingly released the forces that will bring about a more radical transformation towards a low-carbon economy, and a more sustainable future.
The international community will also need to find new strategies to accelerate climate actions. Multilateral institutions such as the UNFCCC strictly act on consensus, and are particularly vulnerable to non-action or disruption by even one country, let alone the US.
However, forums beyond the UNFCCC, with more open ended processes, do not need to reach consensus beyond political declarations. The G20, in particular, as the most important ‘minilateral’ forum, could stimulate joint-up thinking on climate change and economic development at the highest level; and, as a country led process, it could encourage individual countries. In particular, presiding G20 presidents – currently Germany, Argentina in 2018, and India in 2019, could demonstrate individual leadership by reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and by putting low-carbon development at the top of the agenda. Even if this leads to a showdown between the US and the other 19 governments on climate change; the world would still witness a more distributed leadership on climate change, giving a strong political signal to businesses and investors that the world is still heading to a low-carbon economic future.
On 10 November – the day after Donald Trump’s election – American and non-American delegates at the annual UN Climate Conference in Marrakech (Morocco) stood stunned and confused. Had the great achievements in the recent past, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Kigali Amendment to reduce CHF gasses, the commitments by almost all governments and thousands of businesses, investors and social groups to act on climate change become undone? Had the ‘inevitable’ transition to a low-carbon economy been stalled? On the eve of Trump’s inauguration, there is little doubt that his climate scepticism is more than rhetoric; Trump is bad news for the US and for our planet. Nonetheless, we may see some silver linings, as action on climate change is unstoppable.
At COP21 in Paris, governments reiterated the importance of ‘non-Party’ contributions, placing big bets that the efforts of cities, regions, investors, companies, and other social groups will help keep average global warming limited to well under 2°C. However, there is little systematic knowledge concerning the performance of non-state and subnational efforts. We established a database of 52 climate actions launched at the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York to assess output performance – that is, the production of relevant outputs – to understand whether they are likely to deliver social and environmental impacts. Moreover, we assess to which extent climate actions are implemented across developed and developing countries. We find that climate actions are starting to deliver, and output performance after one year is higher than one might expect from previous experiences with similar actions. However, differences exist between action areas: resilience actions have yet to produce specific outputs, whereas energy and industry actions perform above average. Furthermore, imbalances between developing and developed countries persist. While many actions target low-income and lower-middle-income economies, the implementation gap in these countries remains greater. More efforts are necessary to mobilize and implement actions that benefit the world’s most vulnerable people.
Link to full-text (open access): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2016.1248343
The German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Action announce the ‘One Agenda Conference: Linking the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement’.
Save the date!12-13 May2017
It’s a very black day – perhaps the blackest day in my life – for international cooperation. I have seen a few declaring the Paris Agreement dead, although technically we would have reached ratification without the US as well. But I think this is the time to double down on international cooperation and the very agendas our institute, and our colleagues around the world are working on. Our international cooperation on sustainable development and on climate change are the best and most coherent answer we have at this point against the narrow nationalism and authoritarianism, the ghosts of our times.
In keepin with this, I will double down on my research and advocacy on climate action, find the links to a broader sustainable development agenda – and work towards a coherent, hopeful narrative as antidote to the backlash against international cooperation we see today.
Climate change is no longer a matter of governments alone, as local authorities, investors, businesses and other social groups increasingly act on, and to adapt to climate change. Transnational actions could further narrow the emissions gap, demonstrate to governments what is possible, and – in so doing – they create pressure for higher ambitions. However, to become effective complements to the international climate regime, climate actions also need to be taken on a global scale. This raises the question about the geographic distribution of transnational action – and more broadly whether the transnational dimension of the post-Paris climate governance architecture will deliver in an equitable manner. In contrast to ‘traditional’ international climate politics, the gap between developing and developed countries is much less questioned when it comes to the transnational dimension of global climate change. This is remarkable, given the great potential of transnational climate actions questions such as ‘where will the benefits of these actions accrue’ and ‘who are the beneficiaries’ should loom large. Imbalances in the transnational governance realm may soon undermine the legitimacy of transnational engagement in the UNFCCC process. This would not only be a political problem; it would possibly lead to a less effective global climate regime.
High-Level Climate Action Champions Minister Hakima El Haité and Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, in their recently released reflection note, emphasize the importance of Global Climate Action by businesses, investors, cities and regions, and other stakeholders, to simultaneously deliver on the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The note further points out the important role the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General plays in mobilizing the UN system, convening all sectors of society, while ensuring linkages with the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development.
Although not explicitly mentioned, the strong emphasis on sustainable development is good news for developing countries. The Champions intend to broaden Global Climate Action beyond initiatives with high mitigation potential, but also initiatives that deliver climate resilience and sustainable development. In a next step, more details should be given on how the Global Climate Action Agenda would support and encourage action in developing countries.
For priorities to ensure effective and inclusive Global Climate Action, see previous post:
The Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions network has been discussing how the Global Climate Action Agenda should look like; how it could contribute to closing the global emissions gap; and how it can safeguard credibility and effectiveness of non-Party actions.
I would like to point out three things to ensure an effective and inclusive Global Climate Action Agenda.